So I am taking two classes this semester that I am super excited about! I won’t say the titles of them here, but let’s just say that they involve rhetoric, feminism, and public discourse – all things I love! Both of them are with amazing professors that are scholars and researchers in their field as well as dedicated to their students and the learning process. These professors are literally the epitome of what I expect all professors to be. I consider them progressive, aware, and well read.
Something has happened, though, in each of these classes, that has caused me to notice an interesting phenomenon.
I want to make it clear that I do not blame the specific professors, nor do I hold any ill will toward them, in fact I love them. I mean really they are exemplary I think that these problems are really institutional or structural in nature.
In each class I have experienced how the belief in an idea has not or is not permeating into the way that people exercised ideas in class and with examples. Professor’s belief in the existence of genders outside of the binary and those genders’ right to equitable and fair treatment and acceptance has not yet made its way into the practice of the class.
In one class, the professor and students kept using the phrase ‘men and women’, ‘women and men’. And I was like COME ON! There was something in the reading that allowed me to bring up genders outside of the binary in a class discussion. And the professor says something like, ‘yes Sophia, I am glad that you brought that up and we will be talking about that later on in the class.” WE will be talking about it later on in the class?????? What does that eve mean? Why can’t we talk about it all of the time? Like non-binary genders are special cases? Why can’t we talk about it when we say ‘all people’ instead of ‘men and women’?
In the other class, the professor was explaining how some people think of the world in rigid categories and then said, sometimes being able to put things into categories is good, then she went on to give an example, why might it be beneficial to split the class by gender? The class was silent. She continued on saying something like: and then, some people might want to keep track of which genders we are keeping track of. But by looking at everyone here, it seems that we might want to look at female and male, and then she trailed off. And I thought not for me. And I thought, you can’t tell by looking.
Which reminds me of another time in yet another class this semester where the instructor was going over logical fallacies. They know me, I’ve taken a class with them before and then I did look more feminine then and hadn’t yet claimed my genderqueer identity. They used me in an example, probably because they knew me and remembered my name saying something like, I can’t just say Sophia should make less money than me because she is a women. And again I thought. You can’t tell by looking. It’s funny how one can alienate when they are not using language intentionally.
What is interesting is that I know that each of these professors are thinking about gender issues and are (especially the first two) thinking conceptually outside of the binary, but the conceptual understanding is not permeating through to the language decisions that professors are making in class. I see this phenomenon within myself and friends as well.
I wonder why this is. My suspicion is a real lack in people of reflection about how the concepts we use and believe in (or not) saturate our lives, the way that we speak and the way that we relate to each other. This type of reflection is based on the (at this point rather cliché) idea to ‘be the change you want to see’. Yes, it is corny, but these experiences have led me to think about this idea more deeply. Being the change, instead of referencing an idea, is what leads to this type of reflection. It is what I hope for my professors, and it is what I hope and strive for myself.